Coming into focus this year at Western Carolina University will be the legacy and lessons from the 1960s – a decade of political upheaval, scientific accomplishments, extensions of pop culture, artistic expression, and new synergy in feminism and civil rights.
The campuswide interdisciplinary learning theme for the 2013-14 academic year is “1960s: Take It All In,” and members of the learning theme’s steering committee are encouraging faculty, staff and students to attend and plan events, and engage in research, reflection and discussion connected to the theme. In addition, the group is finalizing plans to bring Gloria Steinem, a writer, editor, feminist and activist, to campus this spring.
“This institutional theme allows us a chance to study together – through opportunities in the classroom, community engagement and creative activities – the history and developments that have impacted us all,” said Amy K. Cherry, assistant professor of music and chair of the “1960s: Take It All In” steering committee. “The discussions already taking place among faculty members demonstrate to me the potential that the exploration of this theme has to bring the campus together in a very unique way.”
Kicking off the year on Wednesday, Aug. 28, will be the ringing of bells from the Alumni Tower and a broadcast of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech at 3 p.m. to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.
Then at 7 p.m., WCU will screen “King – From Montgomery to Memphis” in Niggli Theatre. The film features original footage of King, a civil rights leader known for his commitment to nonviolence, from the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955 to his assassination in Memphis in 1968.
As part of the event, sociology students who visited the Martin Luther King Memorial in April in Atlanta will share their experience and thoughts about King’s relevance today. “It was overwhelming and awesome all at the same time,” said Marilyn Chamberlin, associate professor of anthropology and sociology who accompanied the group.
Also, Jack Sholder, director of WCU’s Film and TV Production Program and an editor of the 1970 Academy-Award nominated documentary, will take part in a panel discussion. Sholder spent more than a year reviewing footage and editing the film through the final stages of production.
“Yet, when I went to the premiere in New York, and I watched (the movie), I was still moved by his speeches,” said Sholder. “He was a riveting speaker, and I was impressed by his courage – to march with a group on streets lined with people who wanted to kill him. I never quite got over watching that.”
Sholder, a member of WCU’s learning theme steering committee, said the film captures the extraordinariness of what King and others committed to the cause were able to accomplish. “Racism and Jim Crow (laws) were so entrenched that it seemed like you could never do anything about it, but he did,” said Sholder. “It’s a very uplifting story.”
In addition to the King event, “1960s: Take It All In” plans include two film series that showcase feature films such as the horror flick “Night of the Living Dead” and documentaries such as “From the Earth to the Moon.” Panel discussions centered on social and cultural issues of the 1960s that are still relevant today will be held. Musical events will include a performance in the John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center by a Beatles tribute band at 5 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 9. The Mountain Heritage Center will dedicate a lobby exhibit to reflect the 1960s theme during the spring semester and encourages the campus community to watch “Bells in the Valley,” which references the 1960s and WCU in its historical coverage of the university.
Discussion of the 1960s as a possible theme surfaced after Paul Lormand, director of the Bardo Arts Center, successfully booked the Beatles tribute band to perform on the 50th anniversary of the Beatles appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” which made history for attracting a record TV audience of 73 million people. College of Fine and Performing Arts executive council members started to consider the possibilities and educational benefits of reflecting on the decade, said Robert Kehrberg, dean of the college. The arts and entertainment culture changed in the 1960s, he said.
“In many ways, it was reactionary to the past decade and freedom of expression was a critical underpinning of most of the changes,” said Kehrberg, who is serving on the steering committee. “This led to foundations of creativity that either took hold in the culture or ended up in the closets of our wishful thinking and making. If there is one take away from this decade, it is the importance of asking why.”
The theme gained support not only within the college but also among others on campus. Steering committee members say they see a lot of opportunities for incorporating elements of the theme into coursework and student and community programming.
Chamberlin, a member of the steering committee, said the theme should be fun and exciting, as well as inspiring.
“The seeds of the movements and advancements of the 1960s have provided the outcomes we reap today, but many of the movements of the 1960s are still relevant today because the work begun is not complete,” said Chamberlin.
Courtney Thompson, executive assistant in the College of Fine and Performing Arts and a member of the steering committee, said she is moved by how people in the 1960s stood up for what they believed in and the parallels with the “Hope” campaign today; the birth of “The Twist” and today’s dance crazes; and the changes that accompanied and facilitated women and individuals to embrace new roles within their households and the workforce.
David Evanoff, assistant professor of chemistry and physics, said he is struck by the 1960s as a decade of scientific and technological advancements. For the first time, people enjoyed space travel, orbited the earth and walked on the moon.
“We invented the laser and for the first time utilized integrated circuits in computers,” said Evanoff. “We discovered that protons and neutrons weren’t elementary particles, and we deciphered the way in which our DNA stores genetic information. Like the social change initiated in the 60s, the scientific achievements of that decade are truly an integral part of our daily lives today.”
Evanoff, a member of the steering committee, plans to incorporate the theme into a senior-level course centered on the theory and application of advanced chemical instrumentation. Students will learn the historical context of instruments that were developed or commercialized during the 1960s and will compare advertisements from chemical trade journals then and now to learn more about how discipline-specific interests have shifted.
“As simply a citizen of this country, I think this decade provides a valuable lesson in the power of activism – the idea that one voice can make a difference and, in fact, initiate dramatic change,” said Evanoff. “As a scientist, I am awed by the multitude of scientific and technological achievements. My hope is that our interdisciplinary theme helps reinvigorate our desire to ask the questions that need asking and to engage in the active citizenship needed to find solutions.”
Lane Perry, director of the Center for Service Learning, said he anticipates incorporating into a social entrepreneurship course discussion related to social movements and counterculture. “Were these ideas whose time had come?” asked Perry. “Was the environment or context primed? How, if at all, are the lessons learned from these histories transferable?”
“This particular decade was in many ways a ‘coming of age’ for our country,” said Perry, who also is serving on the WCU learning theme steering committee. “It was an interesting balance of political and social activism. It was a decade of reminders – reminders of our tendency and aspiration to enjoy life, seek equality and justice and to take a stand for what we as individuals and communities believe in.”
Sholder said that he looks forward to what the year holds.
“I plan to take my bellbottoms out of storage,” he said. “All I can say is ‘peace and love.’”
By Teresa Killian Tate